Maybe the A’s aren’t cut out for this game
Clearly, the Oakland A’s should stick to playing baseball and retire from the game of legislative lobbying and public relations — which is saying something, given their current MLB record.
Watching the A’s blunder from one headline to the next in search of a taxpayer-subsidized ballpark has been a spectacle to behold. Generally speaking, Nevada lawmakers are usually quite happy to throw cash at well-connected industries and corporations that provide a politically convenient tale of promised economic development. Just look at the hundreds of millions of dollars being discussed for the film industry, the never-ending subsidies for Elon Musk’s commercial activities in Northern Nevada or the shiny black football stadium just west of the I-15 as a few glaring examples.
Indeed, if there’s something politicians love more than lavishing millionaires and billionaires with truckloads of taxpayer dollars in exchange for a few good photo ops, it’s hard to imagine what it might be.
And yet, the A’s have managed to bungle this otherwise easy task over the course of the past several months.
In Carson City, lawmakers have (rightfully) shown skepticism over handing the team nearly $400 million in publicly financed “incentives” — offering instead a mere $180 million for the team’s proposed project along the Strip. That gap in funding is undoubtedly causing headaches for the team, which has already entered its second “binding” agreement for a location that hinges on a generous subsidy package from state lawmakers.
Locally, politicians seem equally reserved about the project. Clark County officials have reportedly shown concern that taxpayers could end up on the hook if the stadium doesn’t generate the kind of return proponents claim it will.
In other words, the A’s have managed to do something that those of us who have repeatedly railed against “economic development” subsidies haven’t been able to do on our own: They’ve sown a seed of doubt among elected officials.
It’s an impressive feat, given how badly the team apparently wants taxpayer support.
Certainly, the team’s recent decision to switch possible locations for the stadium — along with years of “dual talks” pitting Las Vegas and Oakland officials against each other — has contributed to skepticism among lawmakers. The team’s history of casually vacillating between the Mojave Desert and the Bay Area — then between various properties throughout Southern Nevada — doesn’t exactly inspire a robust sense of confidence that they have a well-crafted and detailed blueprint for the project’s long-term success.
And when we’re talking about a 20-30 year set of tax abatements and public financing options, such confidence is pretty much a prerequisite — even among Nevada electeds.
Making matters worse is the fact that the A’s aren’t hitting it out of the park (punny) when it comes to drawing in throngs of baseball fans. Judging by recent attendance numbers in Oakland, the team would be hard pressed to fill the seats at the Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin, let alone some high capacity “major league” venue.
No wonder Clark County officials are concerned about who would pick up the tab for construction if a shiny new stadium doesn’t magically propel ticket sales into the stratosphere. (Spoiler: It would be taxpayers — not the billionaire owner of the team who’s asking for public assistance to build the ballpark in the first place.)
Even recent attempts to generate some much-needed positive news coverage fell flat when the team released a public poll that, ostensibly, showed overwhelming support for their relocation to the Vegas area. With 74 percent of respondents supporting the concept of a Las Vegas stadium for the A’s, one would have imagined the poll to be a massive asset in wooing skeptical lawmakers and silencing the bipartisan chorus of critics in the media.
Instead, the story quickly evolved into a discussion over what was missing from the team’s polling: any mention of public financing.
Failing to ask respondents how they feel about a few hundred million dollars in subsidies feels like a substantial omission given the current hang-ups regarding the project. It’s like asking random people on the street if they would like to own a sports car … without mentioning they would be responsible for the monthly payments. Unsurprisingly, a recent poll conducted for The Nevada Independent by Noble Predictive Insights — which actually asked respondents how they felt about the proposed funding aspect — showed a far more tepid level of support.
Even if the A’s lobbying efforts suddenly manifest into something that appears vaguely competent, lawmakers would nonetheless be wise to reject subsidizing yet another wealthy sports mogul in Southern Nevada. Of course, such fiscal restraint remains unlikely in Carson City.
In coming weeks (or longer, if it gets included in some sort of special session) the Legislature will likely acquiesce to some level of public funding — the chaos of the deal’s formation notwithstanding.
Maybe the most we can ask is that the team merely continues its streak of unforced errors as the legislative session rushes to a close. After all, those errors seem to have done more to bring down the final cost to taxpayers than any of the project’s critics would have otherwise been able to negotiate on their own.
Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their story and motivate change. He has more than a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political humorist, and most recently as the director of communications for a public policy think tank. Follow him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.